Shopping online is by far the best way to shop, particularly if you don't have a lot of time or you need something in a hurry. Contrary to a lot of scare stories it is actually the safest way to shop, transmitting your card details over a secure server is safer than paying for something by phone or over the counter! It's also the most convenient way to shop, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you can do it whenever you like, you can browse for as long as you like and spend as much time choosing as you want! You can find things online that you wouldn't find in the shops, there's no problems with parking, no problems with the weather and there's no queues!
But in order to shop safely online there are a few things to think about. Like in everything in life, there are always going to be people trying to take advantage and steal from us, but with a little common sense it is easy to ensure that you do not become the victim of fraud.
Firstly think, do you trust the shop you are buying from? Have you heard of them before? With most of the bigger stores this isn't really anything to worry about but more often than not, it's by shopping round the smaller online retailers that you can get the best prices. Just because you haven't heard of a retailer before doesn't mean they can't be trusted. Do a search for the company name on google; you may find other sites that offer information or reviews of them. Do they have contact details displayed on the site? If not then you should really avoid them! Check the small print, by law every site selling online has to have a returns policy displayed, if they haven't then avoid them! Do they ship from the UK (Some sites act as 'drop shippers' effectively only buying goods from overseas suppliers after they receive an order, meaning delivery can take quite a while, these are usually best avoided, and if they do not mention how long delivery takes at all then you should definitely avoid! Remember - if you are buying from outside the EU, you may have to pay import duty on the goods!
Before you enter your card details ensure that you are on a secure server , this means that no one will be able to intercept your card details. You can check that you are on a secure server by checking the website address. A normal site address will start with http:// whereas a secure page will start with https:// You will also see a small gold padlock on the bottom right of the page. If you are not on a secure page then you should never enter you card details into the page.
Always print your receipt page out; this will have your order details, which you will need if you need to get in touch with the retailer. Paying by credit card is a good way to protect yourself. Visa and MasterCard offer fraud protection and will refund your payment if you can prove that you have ordered the goods and not received them.
The most important thing is using your common sense when buying online, the same as you would when buying from a shop. Follow the tips above and you shouldn't really have too may problems!
Office of Fair Trading gives good advice to shoppers and retailers
Trust UK is a non-profit organisation endorsed by the UK Government to enable consumers to buy online with confidence
Trading Standards is the official body for the protection of consumers in the UK
The Consumer Gateway advice and information for consumers